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Opinions of Sunday, 12 June 2016

Columnist: Kwabia Owusu-Mensah

Forest degradation, climate change and livelihood of forest dependent women

Ghana’s forest cover continues to shrink every day. At the beginning of the 21st century, the nation was ranked among countries, blessed with natural tropical forest cover.

It was estimated to have over eight million hectares of forest reserves in the early parts of the century but sadly this had now reduced to less than two million hectares.

The causes of the massive forest loss are well known to everybody -agricultural production, unrestrained logging - legal and illegal, industrial development, human settlements and in recent times, surface mining, particularly by illegal miners.

The destruction of the forest cover has been a key driver of climate change in Ghana. The extreme the weather conditions - excessive heat, change in the rainfall pattern and wind storms experienced in parts of the country, can be attributed to the loss of biomass, leading to high carbon dioxide emissions.

The continued degradation of the forest has had dire consequences on the livelihood of women, who depend on the forest and its resources for survival.

Women without doubt, play vital role in the wood and forestry industry in support the nation’s socio-economic development. Many of them, especially, those in rural and forest fringe communities rely largely on the collection of wood and other non-timber forest products to keep themselves and their families going.

Again, many of them have specialized knowledge of trees and the forest in terms of biological diversity, sustainable management and use for various purposes, and conservation practices.

They are aware of the food and medicinal value of forest products - collecting edible forest plants, fruits and medicines.

They have enormous knowledge regarding the identification and preparation of nutritious forest foods to enhance the nutrition and health of their households. By doing so, they generate and add to household incomes.

Furthermore, women have been making significant contributions to the forestry and agro-forestry value chain. These are very important not only for household incomes but food security.

The degradation of the forest cover is therefore, having a devastating effect on incomes and socio-economic well-being of many a Ghanaian woman, especially, those in rural communities and in the formal wood and forestry sector.

It is therefore necessary that they are empowered to lead from the front efforts at tackling the disturbing degradation of the forest and its resources.

There is the need to develop policies and encourage practices that actively empower and involve women in the sustainable management of forest resources.

Facilitating women participation in forest users’ groups, improving their access to modern sources of energy and processing techniques as well as markets, have been found to make a major difference in the livelihood of forest-dependent people and their societies.

Women should also be supported to take centre stage of the re-forestation and plantation development programmes in their communities.

The rate of forest destruction and the ruin of the environment, must be of concern to everybody.

Government should act firmly and robustly to stop further degradation – the excessive logging, illegal mining and other activities impacting negatively on the forest by putting in place stringent measures.

Additionally, it should expand and improve existing incentive packages to entice more people to go into plantation development. This is the way forward to bring back the forest cover, to sustain the livelihoods of majority of Ghanaian women.